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Tracking Developments in Media Industry


These days the media business is witnessing the next structural transformation in its business model. Due to the reduction of revenues[1] from printed media and advertisements, industry giants are looking for other ways for penetrating additional revenues. The traditional strategy of cost reduction that was previously widely applied does not seem to be sustainable. On the contrary, most key players in the media world see the biggest opportunity in the invention of new models which will contribute to the boost of revenues. To a large extent media executives agree that monetization of online content is the decision they should go for more insistently[2]. One of the reasons why online monetization is a financially attractive way of growth is that, it has zero marginal cost, and as opposed to print media, revenue increase will not induce proportional increase in costs[3]. Another advantage which online news have compared to the traditional printed media is that they can provide news in real time regime which is extremely important in this particular industry as “news is very costly and at the same time highly perishable product”[4].

So far there have been some attempts of online monetization like the Kindle and micropayments but these strategies can’t balance the all the losses that the industry bears because of the before mentioned reasons.

Up to date, unfortunately for the industry’s decision makers, choosing the right model for online monetization was not the only challenge they had to face. Challenges like search engines, which are generating their content and giving it out to customers for free, are not easy to overcome. In fact, bloggers and social networks like Facebook and Tweeter could be considered as posing similar risks for traditional media companies. However in chapter 4 we will see that the attempts of transforming these risk bearing factors into opportunity and getting some kind of revenues from them has started, which logically should lead us to some type of “business to business” model which will become beneficial for both parts.

In this thesis, because of different reasons[5] I will not claim to have found the ideal model for content monetization, but rather will present several alternative models for monetizing online media content, and what’s more important, will discuss the most successful models employed thus far which are applied by leading players in the industry. I will compare their features to each other, analyze their advantages and disadvantages. I will also look empirical data of results of each model to give the reader a better sense of each model’s financial success and the importance of online content in their business, to have better understanding what role content monetization might mean for these news providers. Besides I will help the reader to have knowledge about the obstacles which should be taken in consideration by stakeholders, if they want to find the best match pay model for their news web-site.

1. Introduction

Throughout its history the media business, which is one of the most dynamic and fast-developing industries, has passed through many development cycles, each prone to tremendous changes in terms of strategy, structure and model it operated with. The reasons of these changes in different times were different processes taking place in parallel, e.g. advances of post-delivery system, facilitating transportation and logistics around the world, various technological innovations etc. However, without any doubt, the emergence of the Internet and the subsequent development of digital media is the greatest change of at least last two decades. It has once again revolutionized the whole industry dramatically, more than any previous development.

Currently we are witnessing a transformation process which might become a ground for the conceptual change of the whole media industry. “Due to the reduction of revenues[6] from print media[7] (one of the reasons of this is decreased circulation of print newspapers, Exhibit 1) and online advertisements, industry giants have started to explore new ways to restructure their portfolios of income, and how to make their readers pay for the information they get online”[8]. The latest financial crisis played a role in accelerating this process. The downturn of revenues pushed the media companies to sharpen cost cuttings first of all indicated by the massive layoffs of the staff. However as many industry experts like freelance photojournalist Mike Fox believes, massive layoffs itself is not a sustainable strategy for the future[9]. The same view is shared by management consulting firm Booz & Company in their research about the media industry. They admit that cost cutting is an important tool for managers, but in order to stay capable of growing in the long run, companies can’t focus only on the expenditures side of their income statement.[10]

Media executives are still optimistic about the future. As the survey in the same research from Booz & Company shows, “most of the respondents (nearly 70%) believe that their companies are financially healthy. The which even higher to 80 percent when it comes to the opinion of integrated players (Exhibits 2), and surprisingly just one forth of the surveyed executives expected they would meet the end of recession with a deteriorated situation (Exhibit 3). Moreover, more than half of media executives (57%) believe that they still hold the wheels to control situation despite financial crisis and think that with structural trends developing in the industry they can outperform the negative results of economic downturn. Print executives are even more optimistic, this opinion is shared by 67 percent of them”. Booz & Co sees the future of media companies in their ability to identify the markets where they can compete successfully and the business models which will help them to do so.

In the June of 2009, at the Cable Show[11] in Washington D.C, American News Corp’s owner Rupert Murdoch gave a speech, which also covered the current challenges of media industry, where he specifically underlined the inevitable need of content monetization. He underlined that times when people where reading news online for free should be over, and thus gave a hint to the whole industry that the process of “online content monetization” is not only non-reversible process, but indeed it should accelerate whether somebody likes it or not. Murdoch mentioned that only online ads cannot cover media companies’ costs and named New York Times, as a vivid example of that. NYT has one of the most popular U.S newspaper websites, but still their online ad revenues are not sufficient for cost coverage[12].

The signal form the industry guru was correctly understood by other giant players of media world and many of them like Axel Springer and New York Times[13] already second time, started thinking how to charge their readers for online news in the way not to harm online traffic and ad revenues. Finding the balance among these two will be the biggest challenge for the “followers of the trend”. In the process of monetizing online media choosing the right type of model which will fit to one or another news provider’s overall strategy and values is a big deal of question.

Currently most news online is free, but there are some existing newspapers successfully charging their readers at least for the part of the information they provide to them.

1 shows the increased consumer spending (black curve) and penetration (grey curve) in online content. The research conducted by Online Publishers Association shows the same trend, that the money spent by consumers on online content in United States increase from 1.31 billion USD in 2002 to 1.78 billion USD in 2004, which meant annual growth rate of 17%. However this growth occurred in the entertainment area such as adult material, music, gaming and sports[14].

Currently, among them most successful in terms of revenues generated from online media content, are American The Wall Street Journal and the British Financial Times. Both of these newspapers are providing financial news and are most direct competitors of each other. Finance is one of those few areas which experts consider possible to monetize.

The Booz & Co research mentioned before makes focus on prior experiments of publishers who tried to monetize content and boost sales with which such an innovative tools as Kindle (Exhibit 4) sales, multi-title subscriptions and micropayments are, but as the results show these methods can’t regain all the revenues lost which the media industry faced in the last two years. It also shows that inevitable steps are needed from the whole industry to look for new business models and as the survey in the same research shows, media executives expect most increase of revenues from the innovations in the digital media, from the new innovative models. (Exhibit 5).

Expectations towards online monetization is a great, at least from the side of news providers, however the way on which they will have to go does not seem smooth and easy. There are various challenges monetizing volunteers will have to deal with; on the one hand there is a problem of search engines and bloggers “stealing” news from their web sites and offering them to readers on aggregate web-sites, and on the other hand there is a psychology of people and understanding their personal motivations, what would make them to pay money in online news. Furthermore, it will not be easy to make people pay for the information which they were used to get for free previously[15].

However despite all challenges and obstacles which is expected for industry players, Booz & Co concludes that process of media digitization is on its way and nothing can stop it. Mathias Döphner comes up with same opinion: “I do not share this kind of pessimism that content business is dying. The opposite is right. That’s the tremendous opportunity through the digitization.”[16]

One more factor which theoretically should give more hope to media magnates is psychological: as various studies about personality drivers during online purchase show, the experience of using internet and reading news online are positively correlated with purchase intention. Once the usage of internet and reading news online is a growing tendency in current reality, and the age of internet usage is also shifting fast, we can say that time works on media companies.

In this research I will analyse existing online paying models which successfully operate and give the hope to industry players for the “brighter” future in that prospect.

2. Review of search methodology

The aim of this thesis is to find out the features of existing paid models in online news which are already operating successfully. I will also try to measure their effectiveness/importance by various criteria, both objective such as existing financial and quantitative data, and also more partly-objective, such as different expert opinions[17].

The research will be developed in three main parts:

  • Review of types of content which can be monetized, where people show some willingness to pay money (or are already paying)
  • As related to the previous chapter, analysis of the personality drivers and its importance while consumers conduct online purchase
  • Analysis of existing successful models, their features and their effectiveness in terms of empirical results

For the sake of development of this three-pillar structure, the information will be obtained through various sources such as existing literature – researches, articles, blogs, expert opinions and the consulting project ran by me and my classmates during our practice project[18].

2.1. Sources for identifying online-chargeable content and consumers personality drivers

The biggest contribution for the author in understanding of this issue were insights from consulting project workshop conducted by the ESMT Practice Project of which the author was a team member[19] in the late 2009. During this project, besides analyzing already available literature regarding topic, the team interviewed different kind of experts and also ran a representative survey among 300 German online readers to understand the areas where customers showed some willingness to pay. According to the results, there are not many areas which can be monetized, but only:

  • Deeper analysis of specific articles as an addition to the more general one
  • Old archives; plus specific interest areas of some readers
  • Local news
  • Online sports events

The point is almost completely shared by Mathias Döphner, the CEO of German media company Axel Springer, who held a discussion around the topic at Monaco Media Forum 2009: “There are not many areas where people are willing to pay money: 1) This is finance, which is related to power; 2) Plus sports or games 3) Regional environments, people around you; 4) And then we are coming to two existential areas: sex and crime, or love and death. “

“These are areas where people are generally interested in and why should that change in digital business?” – asks Döphner rhetoric question.

The CEO of Axel Springer also commented the fact that currently most news online is free and called this fact a “structural mistake” which has to be corrected step by step. According to Döphner there is not need of revolution, once most appropriate rules and procedures in legislation already exist. They just need some moderation and then execution. Continuing on the issue Döphner summed up with the hope that in the long run, for hundreds of years, people are willing to pay for things they are interested in. “Commodity news will be for free, but special information, added value services, exclusive information should be charged”.

Currently, there are already obvious movements in the industry towards fixing the “structural mistakes” Mr Döphner talked about. This will be discussed more detailed in chapter 3.2, named “challenges”.

2.2. Personality drivers of consumers to purchase online

Understanding and analyzing consumer drivers while conducting online purchase, is critical for building prominent, profitable business model. However until today there is no perfect study in the area which could claim on being perfect in identifying and analyzing of all motivators which make consumers to pay money online, and what’s more important, all researchers would agree on that claim of this study.

One of the best researches in this field conducted by Wang et al claims that the main factors which affect consumers’ willingness to pay money online and are positively correlated with the one, are consumers’ perceived convenience, essentiality, added-value and service quality. However another research on the same topic e.g. from Choi, Lee and Soriano focuses on following factors: perceived consequences after purchase of product, easiness of use of internet, social factors such as environment around person, satisfaction of the reader after purchase and existing alternative sources to get the same particular information. As we see on this example two group academics have completely different approach and beliefs towards one topic.

These two researches are clear evidence how diverse is different researchers’ approaches to the issue. To all of these factors I looked also form the prospective of researches which are dedicated to analyzing a bit broader field – consumers’ purchasing drivers in whole online market rather than only in online media. In these researches, some of above mentioned factors are considered to be important but others are doubted.

It’s hard for someone to persist himself not to criticize some of the factors mentioned above, e.g. the word “perceived” is already very dubious and at the same time very subjective, however very important one. As Barkhi, Belanger and Hocks claim in their “model of the determinants of purchasing from virtual stores”, the notion perceived/perception has already enormous importance itself, as it defines consumer’s later attitude towards whole online purchase procedure.

To continue analysis, factor such as social community is neglected in Bosnjiak’s research, where he referring to Senecal’s 2005 research claims that recommendation’s made from close community make decision making process more complex but it does not affect final choice of consumer.

Regarding service-quality we can say that, the word quality itself already induces some confusion because it’s pretty subjective notion. For different people quality might mean different things. For some people service-quality might mean the urgent delivery of hottest news and the exclusivity of this information, whereas for another person the quality of service might be associated with deeper analysis of the article or the easiness of ways to pay money online.

Such an arguing can continue further, but what is more important, arguable are not only factors on which researchers build their different models, but also some general statements which are made by them. For example, the work of Wang et al claim the business model is sustainable if revenue-generating method is accepted by majority of the potential customers. However despite all the respect towards the authors and research itself, such a claim can easily become a reason of discussions, because still, the success of any model depends on the ideal proportion of ad revenues and online subscription revenues and for different newspapers the ideal conversion rate of readers to paid customers might be different. Even this research itself contradicts to its statement when brings an example of Wall Street Journal Online and Hoovers Online telling that they managed to make e-content portal profitable by only 10% of conversion rate. While conducting our consulting project, we also got results that some high circulated newspapers would make their portals profitable even by 3% conversion ratio. Further more, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, has only 0,8% conversion rate of subscribers on its niche site for hardcore Green Bay Packers fans, making revenues of 600,000 USD annually. In other words, depending on the content offered by particular newspaper, and the number and type of readers they have, the effective proportion of online content and ad revenues should be found. More analysis should be conducted to understand the price of lost customers’ amount versus converted ones and the ideal balance of subscription revenues versus lost ad revenues. To this issue has dedicated his discussion Jeff Jarvis, on the blog-web BuzzMachine.

Jeff Jarvis is an American Journalist, former television critic, editor, publisher and columnist. Among the companies he has been working are: New York Daily News, San Francisco Examiner, New York Times Company, MediaGuardian – a supplement of British newspaper The Guardian. Besides he is an associate professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism directing its new media program. He is also creator of weblog BuzzMachine[20].

Jeff Jarvis in his article about paid content published on Weblog BuzzMachine is more persuasive about the complexity of the issue[21] and based on his vast experience highlights for the readers how many different factors should be taken in consideration for identifying one or another model for particular newspaper. For those who will catch in Jeff Jarvis’ approach some “sense and consciousness” will become clear that based only on the analysis of psychological traits of people and their purchasing drivers, it will not be easy to find an ideal model, and that the issue needs rather practical approach. Findings of Jeff Jarvis will be discussed more detailed in the 5.1 chapter named “Expert opinions and Conclusions”.

Before moving to the following chapter, we should conclude the started topic and mention that there is still needed some research in the area of personal motivators for online purchase, in order we could claim by 100% confidence that we are using the best model for identifying the online paid model.

2.3. Discussed models and criteria for their comparison

Once we are analyzing the existing models, the criteria for assessment of one or another method is the time of their existence and their results shown throughout their lifetime. Besides looking at the thematic differences in the features of the models both in Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) models, we will look at their financial results, their generated income through online sales and he dynamics in online subscription amount.

The biggest attention the author paid was to the models of Financial Times and Wall Street Journal as the most successful financial players in B2C business. In addition, the author took a look at Bloomberg and Reuters as successful players of B2B model. New York Times was an interesting case for the author because it is a case, when after first unsuccessful trial, they are going to try monetizing online content already second time. Taking in consideration their prior experience it should be important to track which model they will choose for the second attempt.

Finally, the author took a quick look at some other examples of successful and unsuccessful attempts of monetizing online content so far.

Information was gathered from reviews of their websites as well as from articles about these news-providers, and various expert opinions about their models.

3. Possible models which can help to monetize online content

Technological advancement has made most news content widely available for free online, which pushed most newspapers to give up subscription fees in the hope of getting more readers and hence by increasing traffic, get more advertisement revenues. However such movements contribute even more to the availability of free content in the web and hence induce decrease in print media circulation and advertisement revenues[22].

Charging for online news is very hard. The biggest risk that media companies face is loosing the visitors, because reduced traffic will induce less interest of advertisement providers on the particular site. Ads are still major source of revenues for most media companies and it will remain so in the nearest future. As Rupert Murdoch commented previously on the example of Wall Street Journal, “charging online content is not bad but still it’s not a gold mine”[23]. However, recently after presenting the idea at WSJ to impose premium paid model, Murdoch Justified their decision with telling that, in their case, ad revenues are no any more critical part in revenues and they pay more attention to subscription based revenues[24].

The high risk of loosing switching is easily explainable for SearchDNA founder John Straw, who admits that he himself would never pay for online content if he could get it somewhere else[25].

3.1. Findings from consulting project

While working on our consulting project[26], our group consisting from four MBA participants, I and my three classmates, identified four different types of models which could imposed during presenting the pay wall. The consulting project itself and its results is based on the basis of numerous articles and literature about previous experience, industry expert interviews and representative survey conducted among 299 German media readers. In column 1, table 1 explains four different pay-wall models which are possible to impose on online content in different situation, and column 2 explains the situations in which these different models would have chance to work “keeping other conditions constant”.

Table 1: Types of models applicable in monetized online media[27]

Types of Possible Models

Situation explaining the feasibility of model

Locking down the whole content

Really unique content

Locking down selected articles

Unique content should be part of broader content

Limiting the number of customers

Very high overall quality, breadth of content offering

Locking down the niche articles

Want to monetize only highly specific “hidden” articles

Source: consulting PP final draft

It’s upon news providers which type of model they will choose to match with the content they want to lock down. As we already discussed, there are few things which would motivate people to pay money online for, in other words online readers show at least some willingness to pay in following areas:

* Deeper analysis of specific articles as an addition to the more general one

* Old archives; plus specific interest areas of some readers

* Local news

* Online sports events

Here we can provide some examples of successfully using some of these methods of pay-wall. The method of locking down selected articles is used by Wall Street Journal. In this case most daily news including political are considered as commodity information and they are given out for free, however if some specific interest area, e.g. finance, have deeper expert analysis, which you can’t meet in other newspapers, the articles are locked down in this case. The method of limiting the number f articles is successfully used by Financial Times. New York Times decided to go on the same way from 2011. A good example of locking down niche content is Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel and its Packer Insider: The journal locks down specific information, deep content about football club Green Bay Packers, for its fans. In deep content in this case is counted e.g. chat sessions with players. As the same Practice project showed, locking down whole content, “keeping other conditions equal”, is possible if the whole content is really unique.

Here we have also to mention that during consulting project about online content monetization, we had some more interesting insights about the factors which increase readers’ willingness to pay: To our surprise content is not always the thing which might make readers to pay online: 35% of surveyed 299 German readers named following three factors as the possible motivators in increasing willingness to pay:

  1. Promotions/ Give-aways
  2. Customization
  3. Specific additional content

As a conclusion of this chapter we should say many experts predict for the future that, free content will be used primarily as a marketing ploy: a complementary trial period is strictly used for purposes of enticing customers to subscribe to a service or buy a product online. (Wang et al). Alternatively some sites attract customers by offering a limited amount of free content. They then hope to convince their customers to shift to a variety of “premium”, fee-based content (Outing 2002). (Wang et al)

3.2. Challenges

Innovative online ways of distributing news like news aggregate sites, blogs, social networks (Facebook, Tweeter, etc.) which are free to access, become more and more of a threat for media companies, because news is a costly product to produce, as well as it its distribution in traditional way. But distribution of news in online has zero marginal cost, as it takes nothing to the person to copy and paste a particular article or link it to the other page (Exhibit 6).

Traditional media companies demand from these innovative producers of news “fair ways of playing”, which means either they should produce their own information or they should pay to original producers some fees for utilizing their articles. In his interview, Mathias Döphner mentioned that they are not demanding banning of these alternative sources. “We understand that future is mixed model, mutual existence of both of us declared Döphner. We also do not request something new and innovative. We just need fairness, respecting each other, respecting copyright rules, paying royalties as it is supposed to be done and for of all this playing rules are already there, we just need to make them better and then follow to”.

Rupert Murdoch went even further and called search engine Google stealers, as they take others’ information without permission and put it on their pages. Regarding this phenomenon, Axel Springer CEO Döphner told very appropriate example to the Huffington Post co-founder. “If you want to give others your beer for free, please brew your own beer and then you are welcomed to do so, but please stop taking my costly beer and then giving it to others for free”.

Recently there is a clear evidence of starting changes in this regard: Google agreed with several news-provider companies to restrict their articles readerships through Google to maximum amount of five. Another web-site YouTube started removing from their site unlicensed videos. In other words, Mathias Döphner’s prediction that the current reality would start changing step by step has obviously started to become true. Thus in nearest future we should anticipate emergence of new pay-models, when media companies will have to think, how to share the cake with news aggregate web-sites, social networks and bloggers. We are witnessing enormous changes not only because of monetization, but because of establishment new type of relationships between industry participants, which ideally should bring in new opportunities. (Exhibit 9)

4. Existing paying models, analysis

Studies claim[28] that in order managers found ideal subscription business model for online monetization they need to understand their subscribers’ personality drivers, their perceptions and attitudes, what makes them purchase news online? In fact there is not breadth of information about consumers personality drivers, indeed the researchers actively continue investigating this area and thus provide us with new and new models. Non-existence of ideal model in this area is one of the reasons why we can’t predict ideal online pay model. The other reasons are “closer” to business.

Referring to Jeff Jarvis’ argumentation in his article about paid content models, there are plenty of criteria which determine the success of one or another model. Once these criteria are individual and very specific for each newspaper, no one can/should claim yet, on identifying one general ideal model which will fit to all news-providers.

As director of Association of online publishers, Lee Baker commented in News Media, half of their members already charge for online content and another 19% is going to do so in the nearest 12 months. “Paid content modelling is important to our members”, continues Mr. Baker. “Our members are trying to penetrate new areas such as mobile apps. More than half of them express desire to create paid-for apps”.

Despite we can’t claim on building the ideal model as a proxy for the future, we can cover the most successful news providers and their models which are currently successfully used, both in B2C and B2B business.

4.1. Financial Times VS The Wall Street Journal

Currently the most distributed B2C pay models in online media are two: one is Financial Times’ way – restricting the definite amount of free articles for subscribers and then charge the readers if they exceed this amount, and another is Wall Street Journal’s way – offering readers only one or two paragraph for reading and making available the rest only for subscribers[29].

To compare these two models in more details let’s take a more detailed look at the ways which they are used by their most successful implementers. Of course there is some room for deviations and different news providers can apply to some minor changes, e.g. in the amount of text which should be given out for free, but the concept remains the same.

Table 2 below shows clear distinctions between the features of these two models in the case of FT and WSJ. The essence of difference of these two models is the amount of information provided for free and the ways how it is done:

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